Presentation on theme: "James K. Polk, the Decline of the Whigs, and Acceleration Towards War,"— Presentation transcript:
1James K. Polk, the Decline of the Whigs, and Acceleration Towards War, 1845 - 1849
2Who were the Whigs?The Whigs were born as a party of opposition – ostensibly, a party of opposition against Andrew Jackson.Why the Whigs opposed Jackson varied, though, from region to region. In this sense, the party was always divided, and friction was omnipresent.In general, however, the Whigs were a party of national unity first and foremost. All of the most articulate leaders of the Whig Party were advocates of national unity, and all were devoted to the preservation of the Union.
3Daniel WebsterOne of the so-called Great Triumvirate, Webster was a New Englander with uncommon oratorical skill. He advocated for internal improvements to bring the nation together through transportation, communication, and trade.
4Horace MannHorace Mann was devoted above all else to the assimilation of immigrants into the national fold. He was the strongest advocate of the public schools in the 19th Century. The common school movement of the 1840s which he supported was an attempt to teach the values of citizenship to children.
5Abraham LincolnBefore he was the first Republican President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln was a Whig Congressman from Illinois. Lincoln’s views against the promotion of slavery evolved over time; he was always, however, a strong proponent of internal improvements and Union.
6Henry ClayHenry Clay’s “American System” was the clearest expression of the Whig Party’s Platform, if it had one. Although there were many sectional differences between the Whigs, most concurred with Clay’s plans, at least in broad strokes.
7The Whig IdeologyThe Whigs articulated a patient, far-sighted vision for America.They supported a high tariff on imported goods, in order to promote and expand domestic industries.Even Whigs in the South often voted in favor of the higher tariffs, hoping that expanding industry in the Southern States would promote an alternative to the single crop, slave labor based plantation system.
8The Bank of the United States The Whig Party consistently supported the Bank of the United States. They wanted for the Bank to regulate lending rates and provide stability to the currency of the nation. Lower rates would encourage expansion and growth; when contraction of the economy was necessary, they could manipulate the rates accordingly.
9Economic PaternalismThe Whigs believed that the National Bank should actively manage aspects of the United States’ economy. Their support for internal improvements was motivated by the desire to unify the nation’s economy by promoting trade.Harbor ImprovementsRiver NavigationCanalsRailroadsHighways
10Internal Improvements, Travel and Trade By making transportation less burdensome, the Whigs believed that they would inevitably promote trade and help to unify the nation both economically and socially. Interdependence in the economic realm would help to broker longstanding political and social bonds.
11Whigs and “Manifest Destiny” The Whigs recognized the potential of “Manifest Destiny” to divide the nation. Accordingly, the party crafted a land policy which acknowledged the need to settle the West, but attempted to curb the nation’s appetite for expansion. They encouraged higher prices for land, for example, in order to raise revenue, pay for internal improvements, and slow the rapid expansion of the nation.
12Whig PacifismThe Whig Party was keenly opposed to violence in all forms, including expansionist imperialism.Whigs spoke out against Andrew Jackson’s refusal to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision in Worcester V. Georgia.They opposed the Mexican-American War and the imperialist Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.They viewed James K. Polk’s “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!” campaign slogan as jingoist posturing.
13Whigs and the Executive Power of the President The Whigs were a party born of opposition to President Andrew Jackson, and it should not be surprising that they were jealous of Presidential usurpation of power.Only two Whigs were ever elected President; both men died in office, and neither was an “issue-oriented” leader. William Henry Harrison was a war hero from the War of 1812; he died after a month in office from pneumonia. Zachery Taylor, a hero of the Mexican-American War, died after a year in power.
14Whigs and the Executive Power of the President To quote Whig President William Henry Harrison: “It is preposterous that a though could for a moment be entertained that the President, placed at the capital, in the center of the country, could understand the wants and wishes of the people better than their own immediate representatives.”
15The Whigs Hatred for “Old Hickory” – Andrew Jackson Whigs despised “King Andrew” and their ideal President was his opposite:A one-term PresidentNo “Spoils System,” or patronage.Little use of the veto power of the executive.Deference to the Cabinet on important issues for the nation.
16The Surprising Rise to Power of James K. Polk How “Young Hickory” became the first dark horse candidate to win the Presidency and wreck the Whig Party in four short years.
17James Knox PolkWhen the Election of 1844 came along, Polk was angling for the Vice Presidency, no the head of the ticket.He had been the floor leader in the House of Representatives under Andrew Jackson.He has served as Speaker of the House in the 1830s.In 1839, he had quit the Congress to pursue a career in local government, and quickly risen to the rank of Governor of Tennessee.Although out of politics altogether in 1844, he was not out of the public mind, and his candidacy was viable.
18The Annexation of Texas In 1844, the big litmus test for the Presidency was whether or not a candidate was in favor of the annexation of Texas. The leading candidate for the Democrats in 1844, former President Martin Van Buren, had already articulated an anti-expansionist stance on Texas.When neither Lewis Cass nor James Buchanan proved capable of securing the votes needed for nomination, the Democrats sought a compromise candidate, and James K. Polk – who was outspokenly in favor of the annexation of Texas – was their choice.
19The Election of 1844: Polk vs. Clay Henry Clay was the standard bearer of the Whig Party in The second resolution of the Whig Party platform in the 1844 election summarized Clay’s American System. The party sought,“a well-regulated currency; a tariff for revenue to defray the necessary expenses off the government, and discriminating with special reference to the protection of the domestic labor of the country; the distribution of the proceeds from the sales of public lands; a single term for the Presidency; a reform of executive usurpations, and generally such an administration of the affairs of the country as shall impart to every branch of the public service the greatest practical efficiency, controlled by a well-regulated, wise economy.”
20Henry Clay’s Positions He sought to revive the issue of the Bank of the United States, which Andrew Jackson had already effectively squashed in the 1830s.He tried to re-articulate his position on the annexation of Texas to appear more flexible; however, he could not match Polk’s transparent zeal for acquiring the nation.Both men were slaveholders, but many in the South viewed Clay’s opposition to the annexation of slaveholding Texas as an anti-slavery position.
21Texas was Annexed by John Tyler in 1845 After James K. Polk won the election of 1845, Virginian and pro-slavery President John Tyler encouraged a joint resolution for the annexation of Texas to be passed by the lame duck Congress. The motion carried, and Texas joined the Union as a slave state.
22Victory for PolkJames K. Polk’s narrow victory over Henry Clay in the Election of 1844 was coupled with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, and Polk would interpret these results as a strong public mandate for his political agenda. Polk was not bound to any faction of his own party, either; he had been a compromise candidate an owed allegiance to no one!
23Goals of Polk’s Administration Even in his inaugural address, Polk articulated goals related to “Manifest Destiny.”He strongly supported the “re-union” with Texas which the Congress had passed by joint resolution. (A treaty would still need to be ratified by the Senate.) Said Polk, who identified an independent Texas as a rival to the United States if Westward Expansion were to continue: “None can fail to see the danger to our safety and future peace if Texas remains an independent state or becomes an ally or dependency of some foreign nation more powerful than herself.”He continued to posture and threaten war with England over the Oregon Territory.He openly planned to wrest California from Mexico – by purchase if possible, but by force if required.
24“Young Hickory”In the image of Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk expanded the powers of the Presidency in the name of the “people.” Said Polk:“the people…have commanded the President…to execute their will… The President represents in the executive department the whole people of the United States, as each member of the legislative department represents portions of them.”As President, he would act independently of his Cabinet, and attempt to personally intervene to manipulate Congress just as he had when he served as Speaker of the House.
25Reducing the TariffJames Polk played a decisive role in convincing Senators to support the Walker Tariff of 1846, which reduced the tariff significantly. Polk did not believe that a high tariff was required in order to raise revenue – he also did not believe that internal improvements or government sponsored legislation was a priority. About the only increase in the government’s influence would come via sponsorship of the military.
26The Bank of the United States Defeated “To say that the people of their Government are incompetent or not to be trusted with the custody of their own money in their own Treasury, provided by themselves, but must rely on the presidents, cashiers, and stockholders of banking corporations, not appointed by them nor responsible to them, would be to concede that they are not capable of self-government.”The Bank of the United States DefeatedPolk resolved to create an independent US Treasury, and to keep private banking interests on the sidelines. The Whig’s dream of a Bank of the United States was defeated under his leadership.
27“Manifest Destiny”John O’Sullivan was the author and Democratic strategist who coined the phrase “Manifest Destiny” in the 1840s to describe the United States divine right to rule over North America, from sea to shining sea.
28“Manifest Destiny”Under Polk, the promotion of westward expansion by peaceful means was given the blessing of the United States government. The expansion of the Oregon Trail, the Mormons settlement of the Great Salt Lake region, the Donner Party, the California Trail, and the gold rush 1848 all occurred, not coincidentally, during his term in office.
29James K. Polk’s Foreign Policy, 1845 - 1849 The Fulfillment of the United States “Manifest Destiny” – By Any Means Necessary and With Unparalleled Success
30Even in his inaugural address, Polk considers the annexation as a chance to claim greater glory for his Presidency. Knowing that Mexico views Texas as a renegade province and that Mexico had never formally acknowledged the independence of the nation, he fairly gloats, “Texas was an independent power, owing no allegiance to Mexico and constituting no part of her territory or rightful sovereignty and jurisdiction.”Texas
31Posturing for WarUsing the excuse that Mexico had broken off diplomatic ties with the United States, Polk sent the US Army to the border region of Texas and Mexico – between the Nueces and the Rio Grande Rivers.Meanwhile, Polk continued the jingoistic rhetoric he had maintained with England over the Oregon Territory:“Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!”
32Van Buren and Polk“The administration which is charged with definite action in respect to [Texas and Oregon] and which gives satisfaction to its constituents…and at the same [time] preserves the peace of the country without detriment to its honor will have reason to regard itself truly fortunate.” – Martin Van BurenPolk, on the other hand, openly demanded Texas and California and the Oregon Territory in its entirety – and was willing to risk a two front war – with Mexico to the South and England in the Pacific Northwest – simultaneously – in order to secure them.
33Negotiating for Oregon As the situation in Texas escalated and the possibility of actual military conflict with Mexico appeared more and more eminent, Polk opted to negotiate a deal with England for the Oregon Country. In 1846, he dispatched Secretary of State James Buchanan to negotiate a treaty with England to divide the territory in half. Americans would claim the land to the south of the 49th Parallel; the English would claim the territory north of the line. Resolving the dispute with England allowed Polk and his administration to focus exclusively upon the conflict with Mexico.
34Attempts to Acquire California by Diplomacy Fail Polk sent the diplomat John Slidell to Mexico in an effort to purchase California for the United States, but met with no results. The desire to acquire California, along with the hard stance on establishing the border between Mexico and the United States at the Rio Grande River – not the Nueces – led to an escalation of the conflict in Mexico. Many believe Polk provoke the war willfully in order to seize Mexico’s territory in the Southwest.
35Posturing for War With Mexico In Polk’s diaries, he records:“Gen’l Taylor shall be instructe that the crossing of the Del Norte by a Mexican Army in force shall be regarded as an act of war on her part, and that in that event, Gen’l Taylor to be ordered, if he shall deem it advisable, not to wait to be attacked but to attack her army first.”He also authorized a blockade of all Mexican ports on the Gulf of Mexico if practicable.These order are essentially an act of war – and recall that the declaration of war IS NOT a power of the President.
36“American Blood on American Soil” When the inevitable provocation occurred – and it is much disputed among historians whether the shots fired were indeed in American territory – Polk claimed that American blood had been spilt on American soil and that war was justified.One of the few Whigs to speak out against the war was Abraham Lincoln, who declared that he would want evidence to indicate the very spot where American blood had been shed. The speech was not popular; indeed, it may have cost him re-election.
37Ending the WarEven before the war began, Americans had articulated stances against the acquisition of territory in the West as a result of imperialist aggression.David Wilmot, in his famed Wilmot Proviso, suggested that slavery should be banned from any territory gained via conquest.Since many Northern Whigs viewed the Mexican-American conflict as a war of aggression for the purpose of expanding slavery, they were put in a difficult situation by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. In order to end the war, they had to affirm the expansionist agenda of President Polk.
38The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo The Mexican Cession, including all of the land once claimed by Texas, the New Mexico territory and California, was taken by the United States from Mexico for approximately $20 Million. How this land would change the balance of power in the Union – towards slavery or towards free labor – proved to be too large a question to resolve except by war.
39Expanding Slavery to the West? The Whig party tended to oppose the annexation of Texas and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo on the grounds that the expansion of territory to the South of the Missouri Compromise line would inevitably result in the creation of more slave states.Polk left office in 1849, but his legacy continued well into the 1850s, as the issue of popular sovereignty redefined the terms of the debate over slavery. The west was rapidly being settled – particularly post Gold Rush of 1848.When the Compromise of 1850 was created, California became a free state, but the possibility of slavery in the West actually expanded due to popular sovereignty.
40The Compromise of 1850 California entered the Union as a free state. The Slave Trade in Washington, D.C. was ended.Popular Sovereignty would be used to determine the issue of slavery in the new Western territories.The Fugitive Slave Law, which required northerners to capture and return runaway slaves, was strengthened.
41Zachary TaylorBy 1848, the Whig party was a divided political faction. By nominating war hero Zachary Taylor and opting not to run on a formal platform in the Election of 1848, the party managed to win the Presidency in Sadly, though, like the Whig William Henry Harrison before him, Taylor would die in office.
42The Decline and Fall of the Whig Party Because of the divide over slavery, the Whig Party split into pro-slavery and increasingly abolitionist sections by the 1850s.The Compromise of 1850 – eventually supported by Millard Fillmore and supported by Northern Whigs – divided the party.The publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe further complicated the debate.Then in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which Stephen Douglass, a Democrat, sponsored lead to the collapse of the Party over the issue of the expansion of slavery into the West.
43James K. Polk and the Destruction of the Whigs Polk discredited the American System and portrayed it as an elitist trap.The tariff was lowered from 32% to 25% - promoting free trade and benefiting the nation economically.The Bank of the United States was put permanently away, and an independent treasury was now considered the most democratic manner of managing the public revenues.“Manifest Destiny” was accomplished with rapid speed, and could not be undone.
44And a Post Script…The argument might just as easily be put forth that the dizzying success of James K. Polk’s four years in office also led to the division and subsequent death of the Democratic Party as well. Although in name the party would persist through the Civil War and beyond, factions would emerge in the North and South which divided the party completely, and it would not come back together until after the loss of 625, 000 soldiers.
45The Republican PartyBy 1856, the Republican Party was formed, combining former Whigs with anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party members and Free Soilers who sought to stop the advance of slavery into the territories.John Fremont was the first Republican to run for the Presidency as a Whig, but the 1860 nominee was much more successful: Abraham Lincoln.
46The Death of PolkAfter leaving office in 1849 Polk contracted cholera and died of dehydration induced by bowel dysfunction. Although he envisioned and executed one of the most successful foreign policies every in an American president’s administration, he is poorly remembered in history, and he was divisive enough that he cannot be called “well loved.”